Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 11 June 1902

Mr HIGGINS (Northern Melbourne) - This . is no ordinary proposal which can be haggled about, as we might haggle about a duty in the Tariff. The iron industry is, as I understand it, a pivotal industry, which is well worth some | risk. If we cannot risk money in the way j we should like, we may as well see what 1 can be done by means of a measure such as j that, before us. I understand that the honor - I able member for Bland has submitted a ; proposal with which I. personally would i have the strongest sympathy - a proposal to | nationalize this industry, which gives rise to j other and dependent industries. But we i may as well face the facts honestly. If there is anything clear about the Constitution it is that it is not permissible or possible for the Federal Government to carry on any industry. I admit that it is a pity that our hands should be so tied. We are "cribbed, 'cabined, and confined," and we shall find ourselves even more restricted in the course of a few years. In our. rapid development I have little doubt that we shall find the Constitution an impossible and unworkable instrument of government. In passing, I may say that that is the reason I took the unwelcome course of opposing the adoption of the Constitution. But we, should try to make the best of circumstances. I feel perfectly clear that it is not possible for the Federal Government to undertake the iron industry or any part of it. There is power to theFederal Government to make laws regulating trade and commerce between the States, between private persons, or with foreign countries, but there is no power to carry on any industry. There is no power to trade; there is no power to do commerce ;. and much less is there power to carry on an industry. Under the circumstances what is best to be done ? I do not know any better course than to risk some money in the form of a bonus ; but I should like that money risked with very stringent safeguards as to wages, hours, and the general conditions of labour. When we are giving the hard-earned money of taxpayers to a body of men for-the purpose of establishing an industry, it is not at all unreasonable to require that proper wages, hours, and conditions of labour shall be enjoyed by those employed. I do not think the sentiment of Australia would allow national moneys to be spent in sweating wages.

Mr Kingston - The honorable and learned member means that the workers shall share in the benefits of the bonus 1

Mr HIGGINS - That is so.

Mr Kingston - Hear, hear !

Mr HIGGINS - It is not worth while for the Commonwealth to help in creating an industry which does not pay fair wages to the men who live by it. If the second reading passes, I ' intend to move as an amendment the addition of the following words to clause S -

And for securing proper wages and hours and conditions of labour.

Of course, I am not bound down to the exact phraseology, though I think that those words will do what is wanted. It will still be optional with the Governor-General in Council, in framing the regulations under which the bonuses are to be granted, to include such conditions : but I think that the sentiment of this House is such that they will be insisted upon. What I suggest is quite practicable, and the regulations must be laid before both Houses of Parliament. I think it is only fair that they should be before Parliament for a reasonable time before coming into force, but I would not insist upon that if the Minister undertook to insert definite and stringent provisions in regard to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is the distinction between the Commonwealth paying the wages and prescribing the wages which are to be paid bv private employers 1

Mr HIGGINS - I think there would be a difference between my action in prescribing the wages of the honorable member's employes and paying them myself.

Mr Conroy - But there would not be much difference if the honorable and learned member supplied the money in either case.

Mr HIGGINS - If the Commonwealth is going to provide money for the establishment of iron works, we should see that those who are employed by the manufacturers are paid fair wages. I do not think that the House should agree to the postponement of the measure. Of course, we shall have the iron ore to work on in the future, but it seems to me that the sooner we dig it out of the ground and make use of it the better. I have seen in Tasmania almost mountains of iron ore, and I have no doubt that in New South Wales, and perhaps in other States, there are ample supplies available. Our losses in the pastoral industry through the drought should show us that we must not remain as dependent as we have been hitherto upon what are called the primary industries. -I shall support the second reading.

Suggest corrections